More Trick Than Treat: House GOP Threatens UNICEF

Later today, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will consider a bill that basically guts American contributions to the UN.  The bill is championed by Chairwoman Ileana Ros Lehtinen and would shift the way the United States and all member states pay the UN from a dues payment system to a system of voluntary funding in which countries cherry pick the programs they’ll pay. If a voluntary funding system is not imposed by all member states, and there is almost no support for this switch even amongst American allies, the legislation forces the United States to reduce its funding for the UN by 50% (from about $500 million a year to $250 million a year)

Several UN agencies like UNICEF and the World Food Program are already funded on a voluntary basis. In other words, donors pay what they can, when they can. Presumably this legislation would not touch these popular UN agencies.  And after all, it would be deeply immoral and politically un-savvy to take food out of the mouths of starving children, right?

Or at least that’s what I thought until I read the fine print.

In fact, there is provision tucked into the United Nations Transparency, Accountability and Reform Act of 2011 which would effectively end all American contributions to UNICEF.  Section 202 reads “no funds made available for use as a United States Contribution to any United Nations Entity may be obligated or expended if—(1) the intended United Nations Entity recipient has not provided to the Comptroller General within the preceding year a Transparency Certification. “

The bill defines a “transparency certificate” as a written affirmation that must be submitted by each UN agency or program every year to the U.S. Comptroller General ensuring that they will provide the General Accountability Office and Congress full, complete, and unfettered access to all oversight documents upon request. If the certificate is not provided, funds are withheld.

The thing is, neither UNICEF, nor any UN agency would ever agree to such a provision.  Once you start privileging one country, other countries are going to want the same level of access and treatment. When that happens, UNICEF will have to create a whole new bureaucracy dedicated to responding to these requests from 190 governments around the world — money could probably be better directed toward schooling children in the Horn of Africa or providing Polio and Measles vaccines to kids in Afghanistan or Kenya. It is almost as if because Californians pay a greater percentage of federal income taxes, they should somehow get preferential treatment from the federal government.It just doesn’t work that way. And neither does the United Nations.

The Republicans know this. They also know that the rest of the world would oppose this kind of unilateral measure. Still, they are setting into motion a process that could lead to a funding crisis for UNICEF, the World Food Program and the World Health Organization.  Ultimately, the people who will suffer are poor, hungry and sick children, women and men around the world.

For more on UN funding, check out our interactive infographic on the topic: